Tim Farron was one of the odder casualties at the last general election, resigning more than a week after the dust settled amid allegations of backroom plotting and ongoing controversy about his Christian faith. This despite the Lib Dem leader actually gaining his party a few seats.
His defenestration marked a few things, perhaps most importantly the trouble many have with distinguishing between somebody’s personal beliefs and what they wish to enforce in law. Farron, if you recall, clearly had some problem with homosexuality, but had a decent record on voting for LGBT rights and clearly had no intention of going backwards on the matter.
In a surprise twist the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has backed airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria, claiming that the situation is not akin to the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Farron had previously set out five tests that would have to be met before he supported prime minister David Cameron’s plans to drop bombs in Syria, stressing the legality of such a move and whether it would be supported by other measures.
Fleet Street’s political hacks have treated the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this week as something of a joke, noting that the party has a mere eight MPs following a crushing defeat in the polls at May.
Yet as Tim Farron seeks to turn the party around positioning will be key, and a first political party broadcast from the new leader may well set the tone for the coming months and years in opposition:
Farron has long been placed on the social democratic side of the party, as opposed to the more classically liberal side occupied by previous leader Nick Clegg as his cohort known as the Orange Bookers.
As such the new leader’s bid to focus on Britain’s ongoing housing crisis is more in keeping with his flank, with the video emphasising Farron’s softly spoken approach with phrases such as “a level of housing need” in place of franker expression.
Whether the Lib Dems would build 300,000 houses even if they were in power is debatable – much of Britain is wrapped up in excessive planning laws regarding listed buildings, protected views and green belts – but the focus is interesting.
Unfortunately he must also work to disassociate his party from the Tories, whose toxicity ensured many lefties switched from voting Lib Dem to Labour or Greens, helping to seal mass losses in South West England and South London.
Farron’s belief that his party could be back in power by 2020 is at odds with Menzies Campbell, who puts the recovery at ten years. But at least for the party both assume the much rumoured extinction of the Lib Dems is overhyped.